Max Sher

Retired Russian admiral Alexander Speshilov chairs the Kronstadt Naval Club, an association of navy officers and historians founded as far back as 1786 by the navy aristocracy to promote naval traditions and historical knowledge. Today, though, the Club has lost all its imperial glitter leasing parts of the historical building out to children hobby groups and a second-hand clothing store. Kronstadt is an island town off shore St. Petersburg, once a famous and heroic naval base but now a sleepy suburb desperately clinging to its past. To me, this image is a good example of both the deceptiveness of the photograph and the double nature of the Russian life when splendid fa├žades often conceal a rotten core. In this case, a proud and even pompous admiral poses for picture in a lavish historical interior but in essence both are nothing more than a mirage of a vanished empire with once a great culture now reduced to couleur locale.